Tom Fearon

Professional communicator in Canberra

Why You Should Care about International Women's Day

Mar. 8, 2012

By Tom Fearon

 Zhang Lan, founder of the South Beauty restaurant chain. Photo: China.org.cn

Zhang Lan, founder of the South Beauty restaurant chain. Photo: China.org.cn

People are quick to dismiss holidays they view as frivolous or just plain stupid such as Hammock Day or Hug Your Cat Day, but International Women's Day deserves our attention both as men and women. Since the first International Women's Day was marked in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland in 1911, women's rights have made tremendous progress all over the world.

Here in China, women have been "holding up half the sky" as former Chairman Mao Zedong famously exhorted them to do decades ago. Chinese women have come a long way from the dark, feudal days of foot binding where their role within society rarely saw them leave the house.

Gender equality has been at the cornerstone of building China's harmonious socialist society, with the economy, law and public opinion all constantly reminding us that women deserve equal rights. Today, Chinese women hold influence in the government and private sector. Over 40 percent of private businesses in China are managed by women, while females make up more than a quarter of executives at State or collectively owned enterprises.

A prime example is Beijing business dynamo Zhang Lan, whose South Beauty chain of Sichuan-cuisine restaurants employs more than 10,000 people and is expected to number 500 worldwide by 2020. In fact, more than half of the world's richest women are Chinese, proving that the business world isn't exclusively a "boys' club" in China.

However, there remain key areas when women are underrepresented in China, most notably politics. All nine members of the current Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) are men, however that could change if State Councilor Liu Yandong is, as widely tipped, named in the next PSC to be unveiled in November this year.

Historically, women have been characterized as either ruthless or weak within Chinese politics. Unfortunately, the shady character of modern figures such as Mao's wife Jiang Qing overshadows the efforts of great reformers including Tang Dynasty (618-907) Empress Wu Zetian, who reigned over a time of great peace and advanced women's rights in a society shaped by misogynistic Confucian beliefs.

International Women's Day doesn't carry as much clout in Western countries as it does in developing countries, such as China. Perhaps it's because, in Australia at least, we have a female prime minister, sharp-tongued feminists like Germaine Greer are never far from the media spotlight and women have had the right to vote in parliamentary elections for more than a century, even if it took more than 60 years to give the same right to indigenous Australians. It's easy to think we've nailed gender equality, but the reality is it's a global plight at different stages of development.

Until trafficking of women to prop up the sex tourism industry ends, there's a need for International Women's Day. Until girls from all over the world are given the same educational opportunities, there's a need for International Women's Day. Until society stamps out domestic violence and sexual harassment against women, there's a need for International Women's Day. And until conservative American political commentators learn "slut" isn't an appropriate term to label intellectual females who challenge their narrow-minded views, there's a need for International Women's Day.


See the original article here.